The Evolution of Mission Impossible

Here's a little post that I wrote for The People's Movies about the Mission Impossible franchise.

The Mission: Impossible Film series has become something of a modern classic within the action genre, as well as being a box office goldmine for Paramount Studios - the first three films grossing over $1.4 billion. Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt will be returning for the fourth film in the hugely successful series - Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol on the 26th December, so it feels like the right time to have a look back over the films the popular television series that preceded them, running from 1966 to 1973 and also returning for a brief spell from 1988 to 1990. Here's a quick overview of the series: this post will self-destruct in five seconds (No, not really but I couldn't resist).

Mission: Impossible (1966-1973)
American network, CBS ran seven seasons of this highly entertaining espionage drama created and produced by author, Bruce Geller. The series followed the work of the IMF (Impossible Mission Force), a team of sought-after secret agents who would be hired to take down the world's villains. The team was originally lead by Dan Briggs played by Steven Hill, but due to religious commitments and tensions with the crew, Briggs was replaced in Season 2 by Peter Graves as Jim Phelps (who would return in various forms throughout the series). The cast also included fellow big names: Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, Lesley Anne Warren, Sam Elliott and Greg Morris. The show combined a Cold War sub-text with gadgetry, disguises, sinister villains and clever plots and proved to be a hit with viewers for several years, until running it's course and ending in 1973. The show has become an iconic piece of American television, paving the way for the catchphrases "Your mission, should you choose to accept it" and "this recording will self-destruct in five seconds", as well as Lalo Schifrin's unforgettable theme tune.

Mission: Impossible (1988-1990)

Several attempts at a reunion series were planned throughout the 80s from a proposed series Mission: Impossible 1980, to proposed movie, Good Morning, Mr. Phelps (Mission: Impossible The Movie). However, in 1988 during a writer's strike in Hollywood, producers looked into the vaults, finding scripts for old M: I episodes - these were soon updated and used as part of a revival series (and who says Hollywood had no originality...), imaginatively titled, Mission: Impossible. The only original cast member to return permanently was Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, the character was now pulled out of retirement to lead a new IMF team. The series may not have had the classic nostalgic appeal of its predecessor, appearing slightly glossy and cheap (it was even filmed in Australia to cut costs) but it's enjoyable to see Graves back in the role that he played so well. However, the American public did not take to the series so kindly and it was eventually cancelled after two seasons due to abysmal ratings.

Mission: Impossible (1996)
When you thought you'd seen the last of the IMF, Tom Cruise and Brian De Palma bring us our next slice of Impossible action. The 1996 film starred Tom Cruise as original character, Ethan Hunt, a member of the IMF framed for the murder of fellow team members after a botched mission in Prague. The film was the first venture of Tom Cruise's production company and earned the studio a rather nice total of $457.6 million. Unlike the televisions series where the key focus was on a team of operatives, De Palma's treatment was of a loan agent with a stronger focus on action. The film controversially killed off iconic character, Jim Phelps which lead to some angered reactions from fans and stars of the original series with Martin Landau stating “They wanted the old team in the first movie..to kill ‘em off,”. Peter Graves' Phelps was replaced by Jon Voight, who was joined by Vanessa Redgrave, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno and Ving Rhames . Whilst very different to the television series, the film proved to be a tense and exciting espionage thriller which was mostly favourably received by audiences and critics.

Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
After the immense success of Ethan Hunt's first mission work soon began on the film's sequel, which would once again star Cruise, this time under the direction of John Woo. In M-I 2, Hunt is called to Sydney to find and destroy a genetically modified disease called Chimera. He faces a gang of terrorists lead by a corrupt IMF agent, Sean Ambrose (In the form of angry Scotsman, Dougray Scott) who also holds the only cure. Woo's film abandons any of the complex espionage elements of its predecessors in favour of high octane stunts that would make even the most sceptical of viewers gasp in awe - in particular a stunning rock climbing scene. M-I 2's more action based approach seemed to be a hit with audiences with the film grossing $546 million, an improvement on its predecessor . However, critics were not so kind with a fairly negative response.

Mission: Impossible 3 (2006)
After a six year gap, Cruise reprised the role of Ethan Hunt in the J.J Abrams helmed sequel and my personal favourite of the trilogy, M:I-3. The third film in the series sees Ethan Hunt about to settle down with his wife (the lovely Michelle Monaghan) but is called back into action to save an IMF operative (In the form of Keri Russell) who has been kidnapped by an arm's dealer (Played Philip Seymour Hoffman). The film gave Hunt a proper team played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Maggie Q, and a returning Ving Rhames, this proved to be a nice trip back to the ensemble days of the television series. Abram's film features some spectacular set pieces, gadgetry, some clever twists and frequent action. However, the focus on Ethan's marriage did not prove of interest for all fans and at parts feels like a desperate attempt to flesh out the character and add an emotional motive to Hunt's mission. The reviews for the Mission: Impossible 3 were generally more positive than the second Mission Impossible outing, however box office figures did not reach the same peak, grossing an incredibly respectable $389 million.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)
The fourth instalment in the Mission: Impossible series sees the IMF implicated in a global terrorist plot , which results in the group being shut down, leaving the team to go rogue under Ghost Protocol to clear their names. M:I Ghost Protocol is helmed by director, Brad Bird (Of Ratatouille & The Incredibles fame) and stars Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Tom Wilkinson. It opens on general release in UK cinemas on the 26th of December. You can read my review here.

Writer: Andrew McArthur (@andymc35)
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